But seldom has a mayor had more fun than current Mayor Sid Espinosa, a soft-spoken man whose delight in the role is open and infectious.
In July he passed the halfway mark of his one-year term, but he's not about to coast home.
Behind his "listening" style lies a firm belief in getting things done, in running efficient City Council meetings and ensuring transparency in city government, he acknowledged in a recent interview.
"There has never been a ribbon-cutting that Sid didn't love," a fellow council-member said of his community visibility. While there haven't been that many ribbon-cuttings, Espinosa cites those (especially for "mom and pop businesses") as one of his initiatives to boost morale in a troubled economy — although Palo Alto has felt the Great Recession lightly.
"I love it," he said of being mayor. In addition to the ribbon cuttings, Espinosa conducts monthly "mobile mayor" sessions, inviting another council member along to meet people around town. They answer questions at farmers markets and generally circulate to where people are. He holds office hours in City Hall every other Friday from 2 to 4 p.m.
He has arranged meetings between city officials and CEOs of Skype, GroupOn, Facebook and Palentir (a security firm), and with others on the status of city services.
He would like to see more intergenerational connections. He loves history and would like to see more video interviews of longtime residents and others by young persons.
He has contacted the Youth Community Service group about that: "We could send an army of teens to capture stories on video."
A continuing interest is youth health and well-being, one of the city's top priorities, although keeping momentum going is a concern due to a large number of entities involved in the Project Safety Net effort.
He is helping plan a Sept. 17 bike ride to the coast and back, and a neighborhood-centric ride in October, working with neighborhood groups.
An overriding theme of Espinosa's style — both as mayor, council member and in his private life — is "bringing people together. ... I'm a believer in talking to people who have lived lives and had work experiences that differ from mine.
"A diversity of opinion always leads to a better decision and good things," he said. That applies to a current hot issue of people sleeping/living in vehicles in residential neighborhoods.
Espinosa realizes that luck has played a role in his job satisfaction.
"We're on the upswing. There are multiple bids, over the asking prices, on homes. We are at 100 percent occupancy downtown — young start-ups all want to be downtown."
His accessibility surprises some.
"The mayor of what?" one person asked when Espinosa introduced himself. Then the person added, "I can't believe I'm talking to the mayor of the city. This city is incredible."
Espinosa has had some surprises.
One is "how much people care" about their community. "We've had people lined up 10 deep at farmers markets" with questions or comments about a huge variety of issues, he said.
Another surprise is how hard it is for the mayor to move things along efficiently at meetings, with nine individually elected members of the council each with comments and eager to share ideas and ask questions, often at some length — sometimes even if they already know the answers. This has been observed by reporters covering the meetings, neighborhood representatives, long-suffering citizens awaiting "their" item to come up, and staff members (who shun commenting on the subject).
One council member over the course of a recent single meeting spoke for more than an hour combined on several agenda items.
"If everyone did that we'd be meeting for nine hours," Espinosa observed, tersely.
Espinosa's soft-spoken exterior can be misleading, several persons have observed. A staff member recently told Espinosa that he comes across initially as a quiet listener but he "drives people to get things done," largely by following up on every item and setting hard goals in a soft voice.
Being elected mayor by other council members has not always been smooth or pro forma. It took a divided council 46 ballots to elect Ed Arnold mayor in the late 1960s, and more than 30 ballots to elect Gary Fazzino mayor for the first time in the 1970s.
Some mayors return for re-election in subsequent years or terms on the council, such as current Councilman Larry Klein and Fazzino, the latter a longtime advocate of having a directly elected "strong" mayor rather than one elected by council colleagues.
Some mayors have adopted themes, such as Dena Mossar's "shop Palo Alto" effort, Bern Beecham's expanded "economic development" initiative (which Jim Burch continued during his term by asking Beecham to continue), Judy Kleinberg's push for emergency preparedness, and Yoriko Kishimoto's shift to a heavily "green" environmental theme on a broader stage, followed in that path by Peter Drekmeier.
Mayor Pat Burt last year was actively engaged in moving things forward, using his deep command of local detail and a sometimes forceful "bully pulpit" with effect. He was especially pivotal in the huge rebuilding/expansion of the Stanford Medical Center that had its final approvals in July.
Early in the past decade were the "just get through it" difficult mayorships of Sandy Eakins, Vic Ojakian and, to a lesser extent, Mossar and Lanie Wheeler. Joe Simitian and Liz Kniss each used the mayorship as springboards into the "higher office" of county supervisor, with Simitian going on to the state Assembly and Senate.
Those of course are oversimplifications of the complex job of being mayor in today's Palo Alto, shepherding the myriad issues confronting the city, negotiating with city workers, overseeing top-level managers, and fielding sometimes angry calls and emails from citizens and businesses. Some mayors have left office feeling frustrated, even embittered, with an "I don't want to talk about it" attitude.
Others have relished it as an honor and privilege. Usually it's a mix.
But so far Espinosa is reveling in the job — except for those drawn-out council discussions.